Driven Grouse Shooting Destroys Moorland Biodiversiy

There is no doubt in my mind the Hen Harrier is an iconic Bird of Prey, not least because it’s nearly extinct in England, but also because it’s a beautiful bird of prey, one that I had never seen in the wild before.

I decided I wanted to show my support for Hen Harrier day by visiting the Forest of Bowland, once upon a time the former heart-land for Hen Harriers in northern England. I also wanted to take my selfie by the Forest of Bowland’s Hen Harrier AONB sign, which greets  visitors as they enter the Bowland fells from all directions.

Burnt-Heather

I arrived in the lovely village of Scorton, Lancashire after a 6 hour journey from Kent that should have taken 4. My first taste of the North West was going to see two sites, each outside the Forest of Bowland, where Peregrine Falcons have successfully fledged 6 chicks this year and I was lucky enough to see the adult male Peregrine and three Buzzards at one of the sites.

The next day I was eager to go and explore Bowland and after walking for miles (mostly uphill!) I couldn’t believe it when we spotted first the female and then the male Hen Harrier, they were both some distance away. I just couldn’t believe my luck when the male flew my way almost over my head, hence the picture.

Male-hen-Harrier-web

The Grey male  flying over-head from one of the two nests each established on moorland owned by United Utilities

I must admit I did get very excited to watch this handsome grey bird glide and flap about until he disappeared from view. If these birds weren’t under 24 hour protection, then I probably wouldn’t have seen them at all, how lucky I was.

You can’t explain the excitement and awe at seeing these special birds of prey in their natural moorland environment. I felt very honoured to have seen both breeding Harriers on my short stay in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland. It’s sad that the Hen Harrier and other birds of prey have to die at the hands of ruthless and greedy people, who think that they are above the law bringing shame on their sport.

When you view the grouse moors in Bowland, you can’t help but notice how stark and mundane they look in many areas where the heather has either been burned or has disappeared completely. As a visitor I just assumed that this was how the landscape was supposed to look, but on closer inspection, you can see the dead burnt heather and the sheer starkness of the grey hills. Contrast these areas with the lush deep heather where the Hen Harriers I saw were breeding.

Burnt-Heather-3

You also notice how little life there is on the grouse moors, I think there’s more life on the Mary Celeste and not counting the grouse, there only seems to be Meadow Pipits and Sheep. I did see a Kestrel and I heard a Merlin, but these birds of prey aren’t a threat to the grouse.

I did see and take a picture of a dead rabbit which had been shot and left on one of the tracks, possibly as bait who knows, there were also traps everywhere, one of them had something dead in it with flies everywhere , but I didn’t get too close to see what it was, I just quickly took an image with my long lens..

Funnel Trap-8325

Tunnel Trap used to kill stoats, weasels and anything else small that may eat Red Grouse

 The Hen Harriers are being protected by the RSPB on United Utilities land, which I must admit, in the parts that haven’t been burnt for grouse, the view is quite stunning. I took a couple of pictures, which shows the heather and other flora and fauna as nature intended and another shot which shows the burnt heather.

What I want to know is why do the RSPB have to protect the Hen Harriers on United Utilities land, when UU are supposed to be protecting and upholding the law on their land?

Well I’m a nosey cow and decided to do a bit of digging.

I spoke to quite a few people and obviously I can’t name names because number one, people are scared to voice their opinions and two there seems to be a lot of I’ll scratch your back going on.

I discovered that United Utilities lease several areas of their Bowland water catchments for game shooting, including a large moorland region leased to the Duke of Westminster and several syndicate grouse shoots. I have no idea how much revenue the company generates each year from shooting, I should imagine however compared to the £millions in annual turnover generated by this blue chip company from their millions of customers, their income from shooting is insignificant in comparison. Considering grouse shooters can pay thousands of pounds each for a single day’s shooting, someone’s making quite a bit of money, what with all of the subsidies paid for by the tax payer as well. Do United Utilities shareholders know about this?

Winding-path

The winding track which crosses moorland between Slaidburn and Wray

Does this explain why there were no successful Hen Harriers breeding last year and why there are only 2 pairs of breeding Harriers this year in the Forest of Bowland and only because they are being protected?

I was informed during my visit by one elderly bird watcher I met, that only one peregrine nest in the whole of Bowland was successful this year. How shocking is that?

I have also seen other reports of Eagle Owl nests being found abandoned and destroyed with adults going missing, now it appears there are no breeding Eagle Owls and few Short Eared Owls, Peregrine Falcon nests abandoned and their eggs destroyed and no one seems to be able do a thing about it.

It was also brought to my attention that, 18 months ago one Lancashire Wildlife Crime officer quit his job, possibly due to ill health and was immediately appointed to a high-profile role with the UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), to boost their regional team in the North of England.

After spending the week in Bowland, I can’t see how licencing Grouse Moors is going to work.

Who’s going to police it? I walked for miles and only covered a tiny section of the Forest of Bowland and I didn’t see another soul. The chances of anyone witnessing a gamekeeper shoot, trap or poison a Bird of Prey, a Fox, a Badger or anything else that isn’t a grouse, is remote if not impossible. I am now utterly convinced driven grouse shooting destroys moorland biodiversity, the moorlands I visited in Bowland were like heather deserts with just red grouse and very little else.

These people are breaking the law already, how is licencing going to stop them? To protect anything that kills grouse, they are going to have to recruit people like they do in Africa and have them patrolling the moors 24-7. Is our Government willing to spend the money doing this, I don’t think so.

The Duke of Westminster is amongst a number of powerful estate owners  who own Grouse Moors in Bowland. Curiously there are also a number of local police officers that are themselves part of the shooting fraternity in Bowland and still protected birds of prey are being killed and nests destroyed in this region?

I know people who shoot, who respect the law and have a love for wildlife, they shoot to eat and only take what is necessary and allowed. Personally I couldn’t kill anything, but I respect that people have to eat, grouse shooting is a blood sport, this isn’t tradition it’s a blood bath.

Heather

Heather dense and deep in purple bloom as it should look

 When you go only a few miles outside into the areas that surround the Forest of Bowland, there is a variety of wildlife, including many successful Peregrine territories. I went into Cumbria to visit the breeding Ospreys, which was a nice treat. I saw two other Peregrine sites and on both occasions I observed the birds. What does this tell you? Well, we don’t need to answer that, we already know what the answer is, which is why I’m supporting the Hen Harrier day and the banning of Driven Grouse Shooting.

Nobody should be above the law and I want to see justice as do many other people. Grouse shooting estates and many of their gamekeepers have been allowed to get  away with murder for far too long and the higher you are the further you will fall.

Please sign Mark Avery’s E-Petition to Ban Driver Grouse Shooting

Article researched and written by Julie Wright

 

4 comments to Driven Grouse Shooting Destroys Moorland Biodiversiy

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    Several years ago I visited a large expanse of red grouse moorland at Alston Nr Penrith. As it was a particularly warm day I had decided do some bird watching on this heather moorland behind Cross Fell. Because the region was so remote and extensive I had hoped during my walk to encounter merlin, peregrine, short-eared owl and perhaps even a sighting of a hen harrier as the heather in parts was perfect nesting habitat. Not surprisingly it didn’t take too long to discover this moorland upland area was a well keepered area, with traps set almost everywhere.

    As I approached the public access gate a sign beside the track informed the public “SSSI no dogs welcome, rare breeding wildlife”. Apart from the enjoyment of my long walk, normally I would have had no problem with accepting this information except after more than 6 hours trekking half way and back across the moor I was left disappointed to have heard only the odd curlew and saw nothing else but literally dozens of red grouse coveys all day. I did find a well stocked dove cote well hidden in a dip in the heather close to a stream; I wonder why that had been placed where it was?

    While vast regions of England’s uplands are classified as SSSi’s, and many as SPA’s considering the huge public funding these shooting estates receive, why isn’t more consideration being provided ensuring for the presence within these vital moorland habitats of a diverse spectrum of wildlife species,instead of being compromised by an unnatural and unhealthy population within a monoculture managed for one species – The Red Grouse?

  • kevin moore

    An excellent article Julie,and very well written it just about sums up the whole area of Bowland where the biodiversity and moorland designated as SPA and SSSi has been destroyed for the sake of grouse shooting.

  • paul williams

    Great article Julie…Sadly you have witnessed the Bio- Die- versity of Bowland and are taking home the despair we all feel at the NWRPG.

  • It would appear that there is not one jot of science behind your absurd claims!
    ‘I walked for miles without seeing another soul which convinces me that gamekeepers are machine gunning hen harriers’!!
    But i saw plenty of buzzards, peregrines, kestrals and heard a merlin.l
    Utter tosh!

    Editor’s Comment. Jack it would depend on which areas you were walking. Certainly where Julie was looking most peregrines have been destroyed. Yes there are a few merin and plenty of buzzard, on the other hand not much else, even the eagle owl and hen harrier are in very short supply.